This is the first in a series of posts that I have opened up to people who read and enjoy my writing. I thought it would give readers of this blog an interesting look at how others view my work.
Bill Blohm is one of my Beta Readers. In a way, he’s kind of an Alpha Reader, in that many times I use him as a sounding board for my story ideas. Bill also writes and you can read his work on his blog. (I highly recommend that you check it out.) Take it away Bill.
Ken asked me to do a sort of “guest blog” about his writing. It is an honor to be invited to do this and more so if it actually shows up on the blog. ;-) Obviously, what follows are my own viewpoints, opinions, perspectives, and all that. Mine. So, in the following insert the phrase “at least to me” or “the way I see it” or “IMHO” as required. They’re here once to keep the rest of it short.
I had planned to write about how he writes and part way through this I realized you can’t do that, only he can. What I can do, though, is discuss his writing in relation to his books by reviewing his stories. I don’t plan to hit every story he’s written that I know of, but I will reference some of his stories. I will be careful not to reveal any plots or endings.
One of the attractions of Ken’s writing is its apparent similarity to those I consider the old masters: Heinlein, Doc E. E. Smith, Asimov, Anderson, NIven, Pohl, Norton, and others. That should give you a feel for the type of science fiction I’m thinking of.
Starstrikers, in particular, reminds me somewhat of Doc E. E. Smith, in that it feels like a space opera. Some space operas, you read them and they read like a big science fiction story. Starstrikers, like the Skylark series, actually reads like a space opera. You know you’re in an opera that’s set in a science fiction setting. The Lensman and Ender series are what I mean when I say something reads more like a long science fiction story: They are truly great stories, but they don’t have that operatic feel. Starstrikers does and I’m hoping that Starforgers continues that feel.
Ken’s short stories, using The Renoke, The Rock Collection, Tin Star as just three examples, bring back the joys I had reading science fiction as a kid. They’re short, they let me get into them, and the characters are…hmmm…I almost said ‘human’ but the last two mentioned are more robot-centric. Still, his characters are ones the reader gets to know, whether human or android. As a reader you get to know the characters almost as well as in a novel even though they are short stories, and you get that suspension of belief that lets you just read them. His android short stories are actually related to each other while each can be read alone, so the more you read the more you get to know about the characters involved. Yet, each story adds to that character’s history while each story is easily read stand-alone and still gives you a character you get to know.
Ok, so we know he can write science fiction. What about The Safe Cracker or Null_Pointer? Or The New Vampires? I’m not a crime fan, although I admit enjoying Fu Manchu and a couple others. Neither am I a horror fan though at my wife’s insistence I’ve read a few King novels. That’s a little ironic as I am a fantasy fan. Null_Pointer was a book I read straight through one night, and I enjoyed it. I don’t know if it was the locale, since I live, work, and play in that area, or the technology. Whatever it was, it kept me going to see if I had figured it out right. I had no desire to just jump to the end and see if I was right, either – I wanted to read it to add support to my guess or to get another bad guy lined up before the real bad guy was revealed. Ken’s writing in NP just kept me reading. It flowed, I sympathized with the main characters, and the book was readable. I was never aware of how much book was left to “get through” or how much I’d already read. Interestingly, when I got to the end of NP I could see several things that I was curious about and thought needed mopping up, but not necessarily in that particular book. He covered what needed to be written but also left open questions about Joshua and others in a way that lets the book stand on its own yet suggests to the reader a sequel wouldn’t be a bad thing. You’re left having read a good story while wanting to know just a little more. When a writer presents characters like that, just as if you knew them in person, you know the writer has a grasp of the dynamics of writing, plotting, and characters. I’ve heard rumors of a sequel, KD-9, and while I’m looking forward to it, I’m admittedly more interested in his science fiction. But when it comes out, trust me, I’ll be reading it – I want to know more about a particular sub-plot that wasn’t really tidied up in NP. That’s writing.
Ok, that takes care of mystery. Now for the remaining genre….
The New Vampires is an interesting short story. It’s only claim to horror is it has vampires in it. Ken’s writing here is subtly different from his other writings. I just can’t see it as a horror story, his writing here is more like a mob story, for lack of a better comparison at the moment. You could easily replace the vampires with two different mob families and the other character with a gun-runner. For some reason I can’t really define, when he writes science fiction you know it, when he writes mystery you know it but this story is almost generic. He writes a very well implied background story into a pretty short story — somehow he manages to provide the reader with a huge volume of history during a very brief storyline. It’s interesting to see how his writing here differs so much from his other novels and short stories. You get to know one of the vampires, but everyone else is written as secondary characters. Maybe that’s part of it, what makes this one so generic: all the rest of his writing that I’m familiar with has multiple characters that you get to know. Yet, the writing style remains consistent. I like this story; it has suspense in it but just not of horror to come but rather from wanting to know…I can’t say, I think, without giving away something so I’ll stop here.
I’m not saying I could take one of his new books or short stories and just by reading it be able to tell you Ken wrote it. I can’t even do that with the masters. However, I can say that even if I didn’t know Ken personally, I would still have read everything that I have. He loves to write and it shows in his stories, he writes to tell the reader a story as best he can. He has a writing style that’s comfortable to read and his writing flows easily around the reader.
I keep reading his works because I like his stories and they are readable. Being readable is a big thing for me and it means that I can immerse myself in the story. Grammar, writing, plotting, all the “firmware” of the story contributes but isn’t what makes it readable. It’s the storyline, the characters, the flow of the story, the continuity of the story. It’s all that plus something intangible that differs from person to person. For me, Ken’s writing is readable. It might take a few drafts, but I know the end product is going to be readable.
From my knowing and chatting with Ken, I know he is a writer who strives to improve his craft. He has ideas about writing that I don’t necessarily agree with, but whether or not I do I can respect him and his writing. Sure, he has typos out there but who doesn’t? I should go check on one peeve in particular and see if it’s still out there…umm…sorry for the tangent. Any of us that write and put our stories out there are going to have some minor typos or inconsistencies. Even the masters have them, but maybe those are from the publishers? Yeah, let’s blame the publishers and leave the masters on their pedestals. My point here, though, is that he tries to catch them and to constantly improve his writing. That contributes to making his works readable. I don’t like it when a typo or punctuation or a plot inconsistency breaks the flow of my reading. One or two is fine, I can live with that, but the more there are, the less likely I’ll finish reading it. Ken’s never yet turned me off his finished work that way and so you can see his pride in his work by its readability.